Accenture: Recognising Ireland’s young entrepreneurial talent

The Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow competition aims to foster leadership potential and innovative thinking

Accenture client director Colin Ryan: “We look for entries fromfinal-year students in November,and we judge these and shortlist a number of them to go throughto the second round”

Accenture client director Colin Ryan: “We look for entries fromfinal-year students in November,and we judge these and shortlist a number of them to go throughto the second round”

Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 01:00

A digital speech and language therapy solution, an online vehicle maintenance application, a new messaging app, a system to curate specific company-related social media content, a smartphone app to improve communications between employees, and an online learning programme to help transition year students with college choices.

These are the ideas being developed by the six individuals and teams who have qualified for the final round of this year’s Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow competition.

The award aims to identify, foster and recognise leadership potential and innovative thinking amongst aspiring entrepreneurs in Ireland.

The overall winners will receive a trip to one of Accenture’s Digital Innovation Centres, as well as the choice to pursue their business idea or an internship with Accenture.

Winners who choose to explore their business idea will secure a space in the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) Launchpad programme for digital start-ups.

The programme provides expert mentorship, weekly workshops and other supports to help turn the idea into a viable business.

Alternatively, the winning individual or team can choose a leadership internship with Accenture.

This six-month internship is fully paid and allows the interns to continue to work on their idea.

The global Accenture Innovation Centre network supports activities related to innovation in the communications, electronics, high-tech and media and entertainment industries.

The centres offer specialised skills, broad market understanding and cross-industry perspectives. This year’s Leaders of Tomorrow winner will be going to the one in North America.

“The award is designed to nurture and develop innovative ideas or concepts which may positively impact some of the challenges facing Ireland today,”says Accenture client director Colin Ryan.

Judging process
The six finalists have come through a rigorous judging process since first applying last November.

“The competition is aligned with the academic year,” Ryan points out. “We look for entries from final-year students in November, and we judge these and shortlist a number of them to go through to the second round.

“In the second round candidates develop their business idea into a business plan and pitch it to senior management here in Accenture. We then select the finalists and they get to further develop their ideas during special development days in Accenture and the NDRC before going forward to make their final pitch to a judging panel made up of business leaders on April 10th.”

The NDRC development day gives the finalists an opportunity to learn from other entrepreneurs as well as to speak to a venture capitalist who offers insights into what investors are looking for in start-up and early-stage companies.

“We have partnered with NDRC for the first time this year and we are delighted to have done that. The competition has always been about two things – recognising Ireland’s talent and helping these young entrepreneurs turn their ideas and concepts into reality. NDRC has the capacity to help them take their ideas to the next level.

“We are really interested in engaging with graduates and helping them develop their ideas,” says NDRC Launchpad director Gary Leyden. “The Launchpad programme is Ireland’s first and leading digital accelerator which is specifically designed to enable entrepreneurial teams to transform solid ideas into commercially viable start-ups. The Leaders of Tomorrow winner can opt to participate in Launchpad 10 which will open for applications this summer.”

The emphasis of the Launchpad programme is on intensive mentoring and over a 12-week period participants receive micro-seed investment and support with every aspect of their business as well as a fast-track to attracting follow-on investment.

“We are in the pre-seed space and we work with start-ups for three to six months to get them ready for seed investment. We have invested between €20,000 and €100,000 in more than 100 companies which have since gone on to raise more than €40 million in follow-on funding.”

He sees a trend of increasing interest in entrepreneurship among graduates. “Becoming an entrepreneur is now seen as a credible career choice for graduates.

“Now is a good time to do a start-up. It is relatively cheap to do, particularly in the digital space, and will not have an adverse impact on a career at such an early stage if it doesn’t work out. We view our partnership with Accenture on the Leaders of Tomorrow award as, hopefully, the beginning of a much longer term and deeper relationship with graduates.”

Colin Ryan sees also sees this trend but the support hasn’t always been there for it.

“There is a good support infrastructure and a lot of funding out there for companies at the first-round funding stage and beyond, but when we started the competition seven years ago the support for high-potential individuals just coming out of college was lacking. This is still the case to a certain extent, and we are hoping to address that.”

The Accenture development day involves training and mentoring on topics such as leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation and business operations. Also, as part of the competition process, finalists are assigned mentors who will help them prepare for the final round of judging.

“We are backing these individuals,” Ryan adds. “It is often the case that an entrepreneur doesn’t come up with a successful idea first time around; sometimes it takes two or three goes at it. That’s why we are trying to identify the people who have the ideas and help them through the process of developing them.

“When we started the competition there was definitely an awareness of the need for entrepreneurship in Ireland, but we are now seeing a greater appetite among people coming out of college to go down the entrepreneurial route. And the calibre of the people coming through and applying for the Leaders of Tomorrow award is tremendous. This rising tide of entrepreneurship is a great national story.”